AAH-194 Visual Culture in Communist China

A Union College Art History Course, Spring 2023

Western Influence on Chinese Arts & Culture: Walter Kraus on Xu Bing

Xu Bing is a modern artist who specializes in full room-scale installations, as well as art books. He created a sort of script he calls ‘Square Word Calligraphy’ that allows Latin letters to be used in traditional Chinese character form, like the font of the title of his official website:

This exhibition will mainly feature “1st Class” a massive model tiger skin rug made from stacked and arranged ‘1st Class’ brand cigarettes, the cheapest brand available in China. I will also showcase Xu Bing’s “Poem Stone Chairs” that form an ancient poem called “Reflections While Reading” by Zhu Xi (Southern Song Dynasty). “A small square pond, an uncovered mirror where sunlight and clouds linger and leave. I asked how it stays so clear. It said spring water keeps flowing in.” He writes this poem in his square calligraphy format. In my exhibit, people can sit on the poem stones that would surround the tiger skin rug. Including other works as well, my exhibit will explore Xu Bing’s recognition of Western culture influencing the arts and culture of modern China. The exhibit will mainly focus on the Tobacco Project and Xu Bing’s exploration of humanity’s relationship with tobacco and addiction, but it will also give context to his artistic prowess by highlighting some of his “Square Word Calligraphy” works.


Masks and Metaphors: The Dual Artistry of Zeng Fanzhi


Xu Beihong Exhibition Theme


  1. Alexander Mendel

    Hey Walter,
    I am not sure I understand the tiger skin rug part. Is the tiger rug made out of cigarrettes? Are they seperate things? Let me know! Also, I like the idea of people being able to sit around the exhibit–that’s a cool idea.

  2. Sophia Rothberg

    I liked the pieces that you’re including in your exhibition. The tiger rug seems very fascinating. I understand that you said your exhibition will focus on the Western influences of Chinese art and culture, but I am curious about what specifically it influenced. Is there a specific event that Xu comments on more than others? Or is Xu commenting on Western influence as a whole?

  3. Julian Zapata-Hall

    Liked the pieces you are planning to use for your exhibition. However, I am unsure about the message behind the pieces. The tiger skin rug likely could be interpreted as a critical piece given the different pieces to its composition. The piece uses popular cheap cigarattes by the name of “1st Class” to construct the realistic image of a highly expensive dead tiger decoration. It could be insightful to discover different interpretations of the piece or potentially even the opinion of the artist.

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